AJ's Listening Page, Volume 1

Ever wonder what an on-his-way-to-being-famous composer listens to? Well, now you'll know. Inspired by Mike's recent post about his mix-of-the-month club, I've decided to start posting blog entries of stuff I'm listening to, in two categories: "In The Car" (the CD currently in my car's CD player--I don't have a changer so you'll only get one at a time) and "On The iPod." I'm hoping to post maybe every other week, and to keep it consistent I'll try to post on Sundays. So, I hereby present to you... AJ's Listening Page, Volume 1!

In The Car

X&Y - Coldplay
I decided on the trip that this was my single favorite album of all time. I like Coldplay's two previous albums, as well (Parachutes and A Rush Of Blood To The Head), but this is a masterpiece. I could go on for probably more than a full post's length, but I'll restrain myself this time. The musicianship of the whole band, and the compositional brilliance of the songwriting (both in lyrics and music), is in evidence through every minute of every song. In aesthetic and artistic terms, the meshing of the lyrics and music is the best on any album I've ever heard; and there is never a note, a chord or a musical line out of place anywhere. The other thing that makes it my favorite album of all is that there are no songs on the album that I dislike, which I cannot say for any other albums I might consider (even U2 albums). This in addition to the album having multiple songs that would probably make my top 20 song list of all time, including "Fix You," "A Message," "Swallowed In The Sea" and "Kingdom Come." Tracks 1-4, 8, and 11-13 are pure brilliance; the rest are just amazing. Okay, that's enough for now. On to...

On The iPod

(I think I'll usually try to keep this category to three songs or albums in each edition. As per proper punctuation rules, italics indicate either a complete classical work or an album, while "quotes" indicate an individual song [as you will note in the paragraph above].)

Fratres by Arvo Pärt
Pärt is an Estonian composer of minimalistic music, particularly a style known sometimes as "holy minimalism" (and ridiculed sometimes as "Holy minimalism, Batman!"). This is one of his best-known works--a hauntingly beautiful piece for four cellos. It's one of those pieces in which the composer sets up a pattern, writes the beginning, and then lets the rest of the piece write itself (I hope to write a piece like this someday, it just seems too easy). In this particular piece, he writes a chord progression which begins at a very high pitch; then he repeats the progression nine times (I think), and each time the progression starts on a different, lower pitch, until it ends in the deep middle-low range of the cellos. The piece is about 10 minutes long, but it never gets boring because of the balance of repetition (the same general progression) and contrast (different chords in the progression in different ranges). When I saw Shakespeare's Richard III at Cal State Fullerton a few years ago, this piece was used very effectively as background music; it was especially clever because the title of the work, which is Latin for "brothers," captures the fraternal conflict at the center of the play. It's a really cool piece.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach (performed by Ton Koopman in the version I'm listening to)
This is that famous organ piece that conjures up Halloween-style spookiness for most people, but it's a great piece of music notwithstanding. This version, performed by Netherlands conductor and organist Ton Koopman, is the only version I've ever heard where the performer plays trills on the long notes of the opening. It's certainly within contemporary performance practice of the 18th century, but I've never heard it done on this particular piece before. According to the Wikipedia article linked on Koopman's name above, he has been criticized by some for overuse of ornamentation, and in addition to the opening there's certainly a lot more ornamentation than I'm used to. But like I said, historically speaking it's legit, and I like this version, though perhaps not as much as the version I listened to growing up. Funny how the first recording you hear of a particular piece tends to stick in your head as your default interpretation--I've noticed this with several classical works. But in any case, this is an interesting recording of an excellent piece.
(NOTE: I wanted to put up MP3 samples contrasting Koopman's opening with the traditional one, for those of you not familiar with the piece, but since I purchased the file from the iTunes music store it's in m4p protected format [not to be confused with mp4], and the only legal ways to circumvent that protection involve personal use. Putting the sample on my website for YOU to listen to doesn't count as MY personal use, so unfortunately I guess you'll just have to investigate it on your own.)

Various songs by Céline Dion
I know, I know (as I duck the rotten tomatoes from my readers), the truth comes out: I'm secretly a Céline Dion fan. Not too much, but just enough. I remember hearing her songs on the radio when I was younger (back in the days before I disowned radio), and just recently I bought seven of them from iTunes for old times' sake. And now, as a (more) mature composer, I still enjoy them. They're not great songs, by any means, but they're catchy and fun to listen to and I really like Dion's voice: it's powerful and versatile and very distinctive. An article by the excellent culture writer Gene Edward Veith in World Magazine several weeks ago compared "pop culture" to junk food: It's okay to indulge in junk food every once in a while, as long as your primary diet is substantial and healthy food. Translation: It's okay to enjoy Céline Dion as long as the other artists on my listening page are as good as Coldplay, Pärt and Bach.

Comments are welcomed, encouraged and solicited. Please feel free to comment on the first three items as well as dissing me for liking Céline Dion.


Eleanor said...

Nice job with the accent on Dion's name-

Darth_Harbison said...

Just out of curiosity, can you narrow your favorite songs list down to twenty? You said that several songs from X&Y would make your top twenty list, but I'd be impressed if you could really narrow it down that far . . . that might make an interesting post, too, if you could.

Mike Morabito said...

I love how every time we heard X&Y on the trip it just wrecked us. Good stuff.

Also, I love the in Car and on the iPod distinctions, because those are two very different listening situations. Very cool.


Nicole said...

Hey Cuz!
See look a comment aren't you just ecstatic! Ok so inagreement with MArk can you really narrow it down to top twenty??? Inquiring minds want to know! Also liking Celine Dione is not something to be ashamed of :) Though i suppose it is if you are male. But hey if someone didn't like you for that reason that would be dumb :) As to the rest of your music selection I am sad to say we have nothing in common :( Me I love my country :) You probably don't like anything I do! On a final note I still insist you find a way to come to my wedding and good luck with your job!
<3 Nicole

Nicole said...

Yea go me I have a blog now :)

Misty said...

Keep up the good work.